Some 3.1 million more people faced difficulties in January than they did in May last year, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said.
It found that 11% of adults had missed a bill or loan payment in at least three of the previous six months.
The FCA encouraged people to ask for help as household budgets were squeezed by the rising cost of living.
“Our research highlights the real impact the rising cost of living is having on people’s ability to keep up with their bills, although we are pleased to see that people have been accessing help and advice,” said Sheldon Mills, its executive director of consumers and competition.
“We’ve told lenders that they should provide support tailored to your needs,” he added.
Energy, food and fuel prices have jumped in the last 18 months, putting pressure on personal finances.
Prices for most things have been rising and inflation, the rate at which prices go up, is at 10.1%, meaning goods are more than 10% more expensive on average than they were a year ago.
Researchers found that 29% of adults with a mortgage and 34% of renters had seen their payments increase in the six months to January this year.
The team also saw signs that some people had reduced or cancelled their insurance policies as a way of easing the pressure on their budgets.
The FCA said it had repeatedly reminded firms of the importance of supporting their customers and working with them to solve problems with payments and bills.
But Helen Undy, chief executive of the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute, said the regulator needed to do more by…
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